Health minister Zweli Mkhize is pleased with how the Eastern Cape is tackling the coronavirus.
On Tuesday, Mkhize travelled to East London and Willowmore meeting with health officials, medical personnel and traditional leaders.
Later in the afternoon, 10 epidemiologists landed in East London to assist the provincial government deal with the pandemic.
“These experts will assist the province but I will need a daily report from the MEC of health (Sindiswa Gomba) about all issues of Covid-19,” Mkhize said.
Some of the experts, six of whom are from the World Health Organisation, will oversee an audit of personal protective equipment for health workers.
A thermal device and cellphones to assist authorities were also presented to the provincial departments of correctional services and health.
At a press briefing at the health department’s shared call centre in East London on Tuesday night, Mkhize said the Eastern Cape had 345 confirmed coronavirus cases. The national figure now stands at 3,465. No new deaths were reported.
While he did not visit the East London correctional centre in West Bank, where relatively large numbers of officials and inmates have been infected with the virus, the minister did view a new emergency respiratory unit at Cecilia Makiwane Hospital in Mdantsane.
He was briefed by provincial correctional services commissioner Phiko Mbambo and Gomba.
“I’m quite impressed. I’ve just been taken through the numbers and conditions by the premier (Oscar Mabuyane) of people who are testing positive in the Eastern Cape,” Mkhize said.
“We [went to] Cecilia Makiwane to look at the progress of the work in converting the old hospital so that beds which will be available for patients with Covid-19 can be added,” he said.
The revamped section will also boast an emergency respiratory unit to deal with infected patients.
“I think the province is doing well with its preparation. Most important for us, we need to anticipate an increasing number of patients who end up at the hospital, so the way the province has worked on this issue is quite encouraging. What I think is important for me is we’ve actually seen the conversion.
“This was a derelict part of the hospital which was going to be abandoned, but they actually checked it and found it was structurally sound. It will be useful for the distribution of beds. I just came to give encouragement to say, ‘You’re on the right track’.”
Mkhize is keenly aware of the role funerals in the province have played in spreading the coronavirus, but did not believe suspending funerals was feasible. A call to this effect was recently made by a church group.
Mkhize said: “I don’t think we can suspend funerals, but what is important is to teach people how cross infections happen at funerals. The large numbers at funerals are a challenge.”
The virus spread rapidly after people attended two funerals, one in Port Elizabeth and one in Port St Johns.
Mkhize said infections happened when people consoled one another without observing physical distancing rules. This also occurred when mourners shared picks and spades — a long-standing tradition in the Eastern Cape.
“Also when they dish out food, people must use their own spoons to dish up. They must not dish with one spoon. Pick up your own plate and dish up your own meal and wear a mask. These are some of the teachings we need to give to people.”
The minister acknowledged the situation at the East London prison, saying overcrowding was a problem.
“The correctional services centres are getting overcrowded. I’m aware that the minister [Ronald Lamola] is dealing with how to decongest and reduce the numbers.”
In Willowvale, Mkhize visited the Nqadu great place to see how traditional leaders were working together with provincial and municipal officials to tackle the pandemic.
AmaXhosa traditional leaders and Mbhashe municipal leaders suggested using closed school buildings and factories as field hospitals.
But traditional leaders raised concerns that in many rural areas it was “business as usual”, with few people observing the lockdown.
Nkosi Xhanti Sigcawu and Mbhashe said municipal officials said a proper hospital would be welcome.
Mabuyane and Gomba thanked the minister for his visit and for organising the experts and equipment.